Friday, December 03, 2010

The Hardships of For-Profit Education

The President of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities complains about a recent New York Times article on the sorry performance of private educational institutions,
The Education Trust report you cite unfairly criticizes the career education sector and devalues the education and commitment of its 3.2 million students. Comparing private-sector colleges and universities to other types of institutions does not consider the larger percentages of high-risk students we serve.
I recently irked a company that operates for-profit charter schools by suggesting,
Stop and think about that for a minute. If you're wealthy, your kids don't go to the University of Phoenix, and your kids certainly won't be attending the "charter school" equivalent of the University of Phoenix. It's quaint to pretend that if only corporations are permitted to pull profits out of the per-student fees allocated to charters we'll suddenly have thousands of schools across the country offering rich curricula and pedagogical choices. But if you look at the for-profit college industry you can see what you actually get - bottom feeders. No kidding, the advocates of that system are encouraging people to ignore test scores.
But here's the thing: if privatizing education is supposed to be a miracle cure for K-12 education, why is "our students are harder to teach" supposed to be an acceptable excuse for the performance of for-profit institutions of higher education? Their students want to go to school and, either with cash or student loan money, are paying for the privilege - you can assume some degree of motivation. Why is it only appropriate to blame schools and teachers for poor outcomes, and insist that the composition of the student body should be irrelevant, when they're part of the public sector?

Also, let's be honest - we're largely talking about diploma mills that churn out degrees that few believe hold any real value, or encourage students to pursue certification for jobs that traditionally have not required any formal education beyond high school, where the same certification can be achieved for a lot less money through a community college, or both. And where the certification obtained may not even be valued by employers.

The author's best attempt at a defense of the Association's members is,
At least the Education Trust concedes that graduation rates at two-year career colleges are much higher than those of community colleges.
Except that "concession" is footnoted,
Caution should be used when comparing graduation rates at for-profits and public community colleges because of differences in the length of academic programs. See Christopher M. Mullins, “Just How Similar? Community Colleges and the For-Profit Sector,” American Association of Community Colleges, AACC Policy Brief 2010-04PBL, November 2010.
About 89% of students at 2-year for-profit, 86% at less-than-2-year for-profit, and 73% at 4-year for-profit institutions enroll full time, compared with about 40% of students at community colleges. This fundamental difference in enrollment intensity, in addition to the many short-term programs offered at for-profit institutions, substantially increases for-profits’ completion rates.

When transfer rates are included in graduation rate analyses, community colleges and 2-year for-profit institutions have completion rates of 40% and 61%, respectively.
If somebody is going to drop out of college, doing so as a part-time community college student would be far less of an economic detriment than doing so as a full-time private college student; I thought that was one of the reasons for community college - to let people supplement their skills without worrying about whether or not they might get a degree, and to let others see if they have the interest or aptitude to pursue a college degree without necessarily quitting their day job or making a large financial commitment.

If for-profits become big players in the charter school world, displacing public schools in the inner cities, how much doubt do you have that once they're established we'll hear the same complaint offered in the defense of private colleges: "Our performance issues aren't our fault - our students are hard to teach."


  1. TeacherPatti12/3/10, 1:08 PM

    I'm sure you've heard (i.e. read) me say (i.e. write) this many times but charter schools (at least the ones I am familiar with in Detroit) don't even have to go with the "our students are hard to teach" line because they simply get rid of those students after Count Day.

    Today's been kind of a crappy day and I'm again reminded of how much I HATE this schools of choice nonsense. This what I see over and over and over again and I saw it again today: student and/or parent doesn't like school for some reason (teacher--maybe she's too hard or mean or whatever; other students; principal). Instead of trying to work things out, the parent has the knee jerk reaction of pulling the student out and placing him elsewhere. Then there's another problem at that (usually charter) school so they get pulled out again. And round and round on this merry go round until the student (in many cases) ends up right back where s/he started from.

    Now I understand that there can be legitimate complaints against a school--for example, your special needs child isn't getting services--but not liking a teacher or principal or not having enough friends simply isn't legitimate to me. What, is the kid going to spend his entire life leaving a place if something is "wrong"? Your first, second, third, etc job is going to be wrong--I guarantee it. I mean, something will be wrong there. So do you just leave and keep job hopping your whole life?

    I realize that I'm speaking in absolutes and certainly there are real reasons to pull a kid but I rarely see reasons that I would consider valid. Try working things out WITHIN the system rather than jacking the kid from school to school to school (or God forbid, home"schooling" them!).

    Maybe it's a problem with larger society...people want a quick fix and don't want to actually work to makes things right.

  2. TeacherPatti, have you ever had to deal with a school from the point of view of "working things out WITHIN the system"? Do you really know what's going on in every family where a kid leaves your school such that you can be so sure it's almost always a parent saying "I'm just going to send my kid somewhere with more compliant teachers"?

    Unless the answer is yes, perhaps you'd have a better and more accurate view if you got your ass off that high horse.

  3. I started school at a school outside of my district. My mother wasn't confident that the neighborhood school (very low SES) would be a good place. But beyond that, the message was more or less, "Whatever the teacher deals out, suck it up."

    That was long before schools of choice, in any formal sense. It wasn't even in this country, for that matter....

    In terms of "parents these days", my family is full of educators and I've been getting the same sort of story from them for years - that each year has brought about an increased number of parents who blame everything on the school, deem classroom discipline to be solely the school's responsibility ("Why are you even telling me about this"), or automatically take the child's side in the event of a problem with another student, teacher or school administrator. I spoke to a local restaurateur who told me that he increasingly has to deal with parents filling out applications for their teens, complaining when they're not hired, and echoing the previously described parental behaviors when their kids have trouble at work. It's not that everybody is like that, but the venting comes as no surprise.

  4. I guess I have mixed feelings about the whole issue.

    As a rule of thumb I'm in favor of choice and the market place, but I can see where there are public policy problems with allowing the "best or at least the cheapest to educate students" to leave the public schools and more or less strand the expensive or hardest to educate students in the public system.

    Ditto - although I've never been big on home schooling (both of my parents were teachers and they still felt the public schools were a better bet than doing home schooling), I have to concede that I've been impressed by some of the people I've met who have done it (and maybe more importantly by how their kids turned out).

    I am, however, solidly opposed to the Post's reporting on areas where they have a conflict of interst and I kind of like the idea of limiting how people can spend Government funds - whether that eliminates useless or "risky" nonprofit or "for profit" schools.


  5. I have no mixed feelings about stating that for-profit educational institutions at any level that consistently produce inferior results, whether as compared to their peers or to their non-profit counterparts, should not be given government subsidies. If their value is as great as they claim, let the invisible hand of "the market" rescue them.

  6. Excellent comments on For-Profits and right on target. The default 'bait-n-switch' rebuttals from the For-Profits about the absolute robbery they perpetuate is: 1) Well, it's just a few bad apples and we are different, 2) Our students need more attention and more remedial courses, 3) We provide a gateway to lucrative careers that they can't get anywhere else. I find all these justt laughable and so, wholly incorrect. The business model for ALL For-Profits is the same....quickly sign up customer/student for a Federal Loan and then track their attendance like a hawk. All the classes are remedial, if that. There are no lucrative careers from a For-Profit certificate!

    For-Profits prey on the low-income and destitute for the sole reason that they qualify for the highest amount of Federal monies. The student body, by default is truly sad. They gather together the least likely to do well and use them for investor profits while they get saddled with a whopping loan. It's criminal and should be stopped.

    The education system in this country is not what it needs to be. School should be difficult and challenging and it's no longer the case. Kids have zero homework and panic if they do. Parents flip over "little Johnny" being corrected at school and, and, and. We have to do better and incremental changes won't cut it anymore.

  7. Actually, most K-12 public schools have mandatory homework policies. I certainly question the quality of that homework and see no sign that such policies are effective, at least as typically implemented, but they exist.

    The "parents flipping" issue is genuine, and is exaggerated when a school administrator can't be counted upon to back up a teacher. Which isn't to say that there aren't also parents who support their children's teachers in the same circumstances.